Coaching carousel: match game

Schools need to have their ideal candidates and their backup candidates.

Coaches can aspire to pursue certain jobs, but they should in most cases maintain reasonable expectations of what they’re likely to be able to obtain. Some of them should be content to stay where they are.

Fans and pundits are busy trying to figure out what’s realistic from all perspectives.

Everyone will have his or her reasons, but let’s engage in a “practice spin” of the carousel (it’s not the wheel, as Don Draper reminds us) before the action starts for real (probably next week, once many teams’ 12-game seasons have ended.

One note: The list of coaches should not be perceived as some order or hierarchy of likelihood or priority.

Here we go:


CHARLIE STRONG: He should stay at Texas. Period. You don’t leave Texas. Period.

Are we clear?

KYLE WHITTINGHAM: He should want USC if USC is interested.

However, after yet another familiar November swoon on the offensive side of the ball with Utah, USC shouldn’t touch him with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole.

JUSTIN FUENTE: This is another coach who should be able to go all the way up the ladder in terms of attracting serious interest. In other words, USC is something he should pursue if he is interested. However, this three-game losing streak (losing in three different kinds of ways) should give athletic directors pause. I do think Fuente should use this situation to leave Memphis; you can’t guarantee if you’ll get another turn in the spotlight at a Group of Five program. However, if I’m an athletic director at USC or South Carolina, I’m less certain I want to hire him — interview him, yes, but not make him the top candidate.

If I’m the AD at a place such as Virginia (where I’d fire Mike London), I’d make Fuente a top candidate. The same goes for Maryland. Again, Fuente should aim big, but ADs should be a little more cautious. Mid-tier Power 5 athletic directors can go get him and try to woo him, but the elite jobs on the board? Those ADs need to re-think Fuente to a certain degree.

As for the man who coached against Fuente in the AAC this year…

TOM HERMAN: Getting backup quarterback Kyle Postma (against Memphis on Nov. 14) to play so well in immediate relief of Greg Ward, Jr., and at a program not called Ohio State, reaffirms the idea that Herman really is “The Quarterback Whisperer.”

If I’m Pat Haden, I make this my top target and engage in a vetting process which will produce a defensive coordinator with a better track record than Justin Wilcox. Being able to pull Chris Ash (defensive coordinator) from Ohio State, should he want to work with Herman, is the ideal plan. Start there, and if that Plan A doesn’t work, look for more options.

South Carolina should shoot for the same situation. Virginia Tech should try to match Herman with Bud Foster, but Bud — if no longer working for (and with) Frank Beamer — might want nothing of that arrangement. (I doubt he would accept that situation, but who knows?)


Recruiting. Energy. Seasoning under Nick Saban. It’s his time at one of these two Sunshine State jobs. The ADs at those two institutions should view it as an opportunity to fill a vacancy for a reasonable amount of money.

Cards on the table, though: If a star candidate is willing to interview in Coral Gables or Orlando, by all means, conduct the interview. However, these are jobs which aren’t likely to be occupied by top-dollar candidates. If a really good coach wants to come to The U or UCF, chances are a fit is being sought, and that should be taken into consideration.

RICH RODRIGUEZ: Stay at Arizona. Make the damn Rose Bowl for the first time in school history. Be a hero. Don’t wander off to another job — that will become your reputation (more so than it already is). If you didn’t like how you were treated at Michigan — it was indeed unfair — you don’t respond by jumping to South Carolina.

Should South Carolina want RichRod, though?

If Tom Herman doesn’t want to come, the Gamecocks probably couldn’t do much better. So, the answer is yes (if — IF — Herman says no first).

BRENT VENABLES: The Clemson defensive coordinator, who has been so essential to the Tigers’ prosperity under Dabo Swinney, has a right to expect a good Power 5 job. He does need to bring a strong offensive coordinator with him, however.

A good fit: Missouri. Venables used to recruit against Missouri in the Big 12 with Oklahoma. If in Columbia, Missouri — not Columbia, South Carolina — he wouldn’t have to compete directly with Clemson for a good portion of recruits. A man with Big 12 and ACC coaching experience could settle into the SEC and have a decent chance of playing for conference titles, being in the weaker East division.

Recommended offensive coordinators: Eddie Gran, Cincinnati; Clay Helton, USC; Bill Cubit, Illinois.

MATT CAMPBELL and MATT WELLS: Iowa State should hire a young coach at an affordable rate. Campbell and Wells are young and resourceful coaches the Cyclones should pursue. The question is if Campbell and Wells would want to go to Ames. Interviewing there would certainly be helpful.

Campbell might want to see if an AAC job opens up. Wells is probably the better pure fit here, at least in the sense that he constantly found ways to win at Utah State despite injuries to quarterbacks and at other positions. Iowa State is a place Wells could recognize, though he might also want to see if he can succeed in the AAC — the conference which is poised between Power 5 and Group of Five status in college football — and use that as his catapult to a bigger Power 5 job. Iowa State could also look at P.J. Fleck of Western Michigan (as should Illinois).

MATT RHULE and DINO BABERS: Maryland, Maryland, Maryland, for each of these coaches. These are likely good balances between interest on the part of the coach and interest on the part of the athletic director. If one coach takes the Maryland job, where should the other one search? If Babers gets the job in College Park, Virginia could work for Rhule. Babers, with experience under Art Briles, might want to consider Syracuse now that Scott Shafer has been fired. Playing home games in a climate-controlled environment could support the offense Babers would run.

JEFF BROHM: I look at Syracuse, where I can pitch it around the yard in air-conditioned comfort and test myself against Florida State and Clemson, showing what I’ve learned under Bobby Petrino. I try to convince Paul Rhoads to be my defensive coordinator.


Those are plenty of coaching carousel considerations to tide you over during the Thanksgiving weekend. Feel free to talk about these and other scenarios with family and friends… if religion and politics make you insane and force you to hunt for a better topic to toss around the dinner table.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |